In a recent interview with a Spanish newspaper, famed director Woody Allen reportedly declared himself "pleased" with President Barack Obama's presidency.
"I think he's brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him," Allen explained. Then he waded into thorny terrain by saying, "It would be good ... if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly."
Allen, who, one hopes, was joking, doesn't speak for anyone but himself (and perhaps Soon Yi Previn-Farrow-Allen) yet makes a good point.
Aside from the occasional genocide, oppression, evil and torture, etc., it is inarguable that public policy could be implemented more rapidly in an autocracy. Think of how many uninsured Americans we could have helped. Think of the environmental benefits. Democratic institutions are imperfect and chaotic, and man's selfish behavior is constantly gumming up progress.
Just ask widely read liberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who pointed out (twice in recent months) that despotism can be advantageous if "enlightened" tyrants (in this case, environmentalists) would run the show.
"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks," according to Friedman. "But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages."
Of course, some form or another of Friedman's rationale has been used in nearly every embryonic dictatorship. Now, if only Venezuela and Sudan funded more solar farms, Friedman could embrace their progressive forms of governance, as well.
Friedman isn't alone. The lure of enlightened autocracy is why MSNBC's Chris Matthews can casually ask, as he did on his show this week, why the oil industry hasn't been nationalized yet. It is why Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan can stand in front of the Supreme Court, as she did last year, and defend book banning (for the administration, via bipartisan legislation).
The idea drives people like Donald Berwick, a professor at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health and Obama's pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Berwick will be charged with managing government health care programs.
It is true that Berwick is smarter than you and I. He can prove it with a hat trick of Harvard degrees. But his advocacy for state monopolies and top-down control borders on religious zealotry.